The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed Matsui to a one-year deal worth a reported $6.5 million, quite a pay cut from the $s13 million he made in 2009 when he hit 28 HRs with 90 RBIs for the Yankees. He’ll become the Angels’ everyday designated hitter, replacing Vladimir Guerrero who opted for free agency.
The move puts Matsui in a rather elite group: He becomes only the fourth World Series MVP to change teams in the following offseason. The last player to do so was former Yankee John Wetteland, who won the award in 1996 then went to the Rangers in 1997.
Matsui became expendable when the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson in a trade with the Tigers. Matsui’s gimpy knees limited him to DH duties, and Granderson’s presence allows the Yankees more flexibility in the batting order while putting a good glove in the outfield.
Upon first glance the move seems to make good financial sense for the Yankees, who save money by letting Matsui go. However, Matsui not only takes his MVP trophy to Los Angeles, he also takes untold Japanese advertisers. Don’t expect to see all those Yomiuri ads on the fences at Yankee Stadium any more.
Matsui’s role as a run-producing RBI man won’t change with Los Angeles. However, don’t expect big home run totals. New Yankee Stadium, a.k.a the Wind Tunnel, played small for left-handed hitters. Angel Stadium, on the other hand, is known as a pitcher’s park. The 35-year-old Matsui likely won’t reach 30 HRs in 2010.
The Angels, however, play “small ball” and keep runners on base consistently. Look for Matsui to get plenty of RBI opportunities despite the fact that he goes to a weaker overall lineup that doesn’t feature the likes of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.
So it’s a win-win deal for everyone. Matsui gets an everyday job with a team that’s always in the playoff hunt. The Angels not only get a bona fide hitter, but a whole new audience as well. Owner Artie Moreno is a savvy businessman and Matsui’s appeal to Japanese advertisers wasn’t lost on him.
But the biggest winners in this deal are Japanese TV networks. By signing with an American League West team, Matsui sets the stage for 18 head-to-head match-ups with Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners.
Ratings for those games should be bigger than, well, Godzilla.
Hanshin goes gaijin: The Hanshin Tigers have been loading up on major league talent the past week or so. On Dec. 7, they signed journeyman outfielder Matt Murton, who played a handful of games with the A’s in 2008, to a 100 million yen deal or roughly $850,000 depending on the exchange rate. Murton also played for the Cubs and Rockies.
Three days later, Hanshin signed reliever Randy Messenger, a former Giants reliever, to a 53 million yen contract. Messenger also pitched for the Marlins and the Mariners. Messenger will be reunited with another former Mariner, Kenji Johjima.
Casey Fossum, once a top prospect for the Boston Red Sox, completed the Hanshin trifecta when he signed on Dec. 14 for $53 million yen also. Fossum bounced around in the bigs, playing for the Red Sox, Diamondbacks, Rays, Tigers (the Detroit variety) and the Mets. Fossum is best known for helping the Red Sox win their first world series in 86 years — by being traded for pitcher Curt Schilling.
Kerwin Berk is the former assistant sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He can be reached at email@example.com.